November 4, 2012

God and Godliness, Sermon for Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity

God and Godliness
Psalm 32, Philippians 1:3-11, Matthew 18:21-35
Twenty -second Sunday after Trinity
November 4, 2011

Grant, O Lord, that by thy holy Word, read and preached in this place, and by thy Holy Spirit grafting it inwardly in the heart, the hearers thereof may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and may have power and strength to fulfill the same.  Amen.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

It has truly been said that the longest journey begins with the first step.  Sometimes we look at the spiritual journey to which God has called us, and, seeing it is long and difficult and filled with dangers, we shrink back from it, afraid to make such a commitment or to devote ourselves to such a seemingly impossible task.  In such times we need to remind ourselves that we cannot accomplish the entire journey in one mighty leap.  We must take it one step at a time.  Put one foot in front of the other, and keep on walking until we reach our Heavenly home.
It is also true that each step is a new beginning.  It is a new chance to put one foot in front of the other, or to stop, quit, or turn back.  Everyone knows we cannot reach our destination by quitting.  Only those who continue the journey will reach the goal.

This is more true in spiritual things than in any other sphere of life.  A writer may never achieve the goal of writing a great masterpiece, yet still have some measure of success.  An architect may never achieve the goal of designing a great cathedral, yet still plan useful buildings for homes and businesses and churches.  But in spiritual things there is no such thing as partial success.  We either continue in Christ to the end, or we do not.  We either follow our Lord to Heaven, or we allow the devil to take us to hell.  Thus we come to the point we are trying to draw from this morning's Scripture readings; continue in Godliness.

Philippians 1 commends the Church at Philippi for their fellowship in the Gospel.  This fellowship is much deeper than simply believing the same doctrines and enjoying one another's company.  It is a common participation in a way of life  It is consciously and intentionally uniting together in Christ.  It is sharing life together as the people of God and body of Christ.  It is intentionally allowing their fellow Christians to become a part of their lives, and intentionally becoming a part of the lives of other Christians.  It is also having a compassionate and active concern for one another, similar to that which Christ has for them.  One of the sad misunderstandings of contemporary evangelicalism is its neglect of the communal aspect of the faith.  It has emphasised personal autonomy and personal salvation and personal relationships with God so much that the Church has been reduced to a voluntary association which we are free to take or leave according to our own convenience or preferences in music or style.  In such thinking, the Biblical teaching of oneness in Christ is in danger of being reduced to a mere metaphor, or a spiritualised reference to the invisible Church.

According to scripture, the visible Church is a connected Church, and the individual Christian is a connected Christian.  The Church does not consist of autonomous Christians in independent churches associating with one another by choice.  It is one body, the Body of Christ in which individual congregations and Christians are members of the organic whole.

Paul urges the Philippians to "abound yet more and more... till the day of Christ."  He is telling them to continue in Godliness.  They have made good start, but a good start is nothing unless they continue in Godliness.

Matthew 18 shows an important aspect of continuing in Godliness.  We are to forgive as Christ has forgiven us.  Forgiveness means to wipe the record clean of offences, and to treat others as though they have committed no offenses against you, and, as though there is nothing in their mannerisms that is offensive to you.  Matthew 18 also shows us how to deal with serious offences and breeches of fellowship, and I urge everyone to read and practice our Lord's teaching there.

I think it is important to remember that Christ was talking about our relationships within the Church.  He was talking to Jews who were fellow members of the people of God.  This does not mean we don't have to forgive unbelievers.  But the Lord's concern here is the preservation of unity and harmony within the Church.  Nor does forgiveness mean we are to allow ourselves to be assaulted with false doctrine and practice within the local church or denomination.  If such things exist in our fellowship, we must make a serious, loving attempt to remedy them.  If such attempts fail, we have no choice but to remove ourselves from them.

The main point here, today, is that we do not allow offences against us to prevent us from continuing in Godliness.  We forgive offenses, and continue to place one foot in front of the other in the journey of faith.

There is no doubt about the difficulty of this.  We grow weary of fighting the same battles and temptations over and over.  We are saddened by the unGodliness in our nation and world, and, of course, in ourselves.  We grow tired of the burdens we carry, and when we see another problem coming toward us, we are tempted to move away like a horse that doesn't want to be ridden.

But it is not only the burdens and trials  of life that tempt us to give up on God.  It is more than even offenses committed against us by other Christians.  The weight of our own sins, and the consequences of them in our daily lives deprives us of our joy in Christ, and tempts us to quit, rather than continue in Godliness.  Psalm 32 addresses this.  Written by David after his sin with Bathsheba, David recognises that he has brought most of his problems upon himself.  That is probably true of most of us.  We follow our own desires, either unconcerned about the will of God, or convincing ourselves our sins will have no great effect on our lives and relationships, and in doing so we pile hot coals upon our heads.  A person who habitually drives in a careless fashion will eventually lose the right to drive, one way or another.  A person who refuses to do his job will find himself unemployed.  A person who neglects the means of grace will, at best, find that the passing years bring him no closer to God, and may even find that his faith was a pretense all of those years, and now it is completely dead.  As St. Paul wrote in Galatians 6:7, "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."

 I want to quickly address two other points of this Psalm. First, now is the time to devote yourself to continuing in Godliness.  now is the time to start putting one foot in front of the other and keep on walking until you reach Heaven.  This is accomplished by recognising and turning away from sin, and trusting in Christ.  It is accomplished by diligence in prayer, worship, the Scriptures, the Church, and obedience in the everyday things of life.  These are the steps on the journey of faith.  Doing these things is the way we put one foot in front of the other and follow Jesus.  I think we are sometimes like Naaman in that we want God to ask us to do some great mission and undertake some great quest for Him.  Instead He tells us to go home and care for our families, mow the lawn, rake the leaves, cook the meals, earn our living, go to Church, read the Bible, pray with your family, and love one another.  These are the small steps of daily continuing in Godliness.

The second point is, God will help you.  In the first 8 verses of Psalm 32, David is speaking to God.  Here David repents of his sin and commits his way unto God again.  But in verse 9 God speaks to David.  "I will inform thee, and teach thee in the way wherein thou shalt go; and I will guide thee with mine eye."  God is promising to help David.  He is promising to teach David what He needs to know about living a life that is happy and fulfilling and avoids some the pits into which David has recently fallen.  He makes the same promise to you.  The Bible is His teaching, not only about how to get to heaven, but also about how to find meaning and joy in life again. It teaches you how to continue in Godliness.  And all the means of grace I talk about so often, are the means by which God teaches and guides you now in this life.  They lead you into the gladness and joy expressed in Psalm 32:12.  That's a wonderful verse, but I think verse 11 is the great conclusion of the Psalm, and an appropriate closing to the sermon; "whoso putteth his trust in the Lord, mercy embraceth him on every side."

Father of all mercies, keep us in continual Godliness, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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